CASTRO AND THE FREE PRESS (PART II)
Castro's monopoly of news and information ended when Radio Marti began broadcasting to Cuba. Contributing to the diversity of opinions, Cubans receive La Voz del CID (the radio station of the exiled organization Cuba Independent and Democratic) and La Voz de la Fundacion (from the Cuban American National Foundation) as well as other local Miami radio stations, all of which can be heard in Cuba. Thus Cubans began to acquire a better perspective of what was going on in Cuba and abroad.
Cubans learned about the atrocious violations of human rights, the thousands of political prisoners, the number of prisons and concentration camps, the many luxury houses and privileges Castro kept for himself and the elite, his regime's corruption, the exiled professionals, artists and intellectuals and how they live in the US and abroad, the horrors of the war in Angola, the fall of the Berlin Wall and of communism. Suddenly they weren't as isolated as before.
According to Castro's regime, by 1995 the audience of Radio Marti reached 54% of the population. However, considering the source, this number may be even higher.
After Castro's takeover in 1959, the free press was among the first casualties. All media was confiscated by Castro's regime. Since then the press has been an "arm of the revolution" to serve as indoctrinator and distributor of propaganda and disinformation in Cuba and abroad. All reporters became official government announcers under the guidance of the Cuban Communist Party - which follows Castro's dictums.
Reporters didn't have any other alternative than to accept and follow the Maximum Leader. If they don't report what they are told, they are fired and accused of being an "enemy of the Revolution." In order to survive and keep their jobs, the only choice is to cooperate. So reporters began to censor themselves and never tell the truth - which is the opposite of what reporters are supposed to do.
Everything related to the Maximum Leader is of utmost importance and must to be covered in extolling articles. Those articles are given only to the most loyal and best regarded (by Castro) reporters. Castro's image is sacred and details of his life are not to be reported. In Roberto Casin's book Cuba: Censorship without Censorship he points out that it is forbidden to report "not only about Castro's private life but meetings with guerrilla leaders and western personalities with frank conversations that could be damaging to him if revealed to the Cuban people. His whereabouts must be kept secret at all times. When Castro travels abroad, Cubans find out afterward when Granma publishes the headlines." Everything is for "security reasons" in Cuba.
All bad news (even natural disasters) about the communist countries prior to their collapse was suppressed as well as news about the pro-democracy demonstrations during "Glasnost." The Tienanmen Square demonstrations in China were finally reported as "promoted by the CIA and US imperialism," therefore the "killings were justified." However, all natural and unnatural disasters in the capitalist world are re-written and dramatically exaggerated, and reported as samples of the terrible life in capitalist societies. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, all their problems and crimes are reported to the Cuban people to demonstrate the evils of capitalism. And of course, the blame is always placed on the US for everything that goes wrong in the world.
Problems inside Cuba do not get reported. Many people abroad think that Cuba is some sort of paradise where crime, drugs and corruption are non-existent. Castro's regime wasn't able to eradicate them. As a matter of fact, there is more crime and corruption now than before 1959. Before Castro, crime and corruption were concentrated in the lower levels of society and in politics. Now the levels of crime and corruption permeate all of society from top to bottom. Most of those committed by the common man are in the desperate struggle to survive inside a hopeless system. People do anything to get a dollar so they can eat. Cuba is now an island of many thieves and prostitutes.
Reporters in Cuba live in fear like the rest of society. They always have to wait for their superiors' guidelines about what to report. Going against the only opinion that matters (Castro's) is a serious crime and reporters are aware of the consequences. Most of the Cuban press directors and staff are appointed by the Central Committee of the Communist Party in order to ensure the party line. Everything has to be cleared first with the Party. Reporters in Cuba are nothing less than more government officials. How can we afford any credibility to the official Cuban press?
Roberto Casin says in his book, "the offices of Prensa Latina are used, as well as the Embassies of Cuba, for the activities of intelligence agents - disguised as reporters - or Party members in public relations positions that have an exclusively political function." About the foreign correspondents in Cuba Casin says, "State Security, under the pretext of keeping an eye on spies, controls all of their movements. For some of them visas have been denied simply because they are considered 'not sympathizers of the Revolution.' Many have been expelled for exposing the truth when they report about the prevalent prostitution, crimes, and decadent and corrupt life of the ruling elite, that the authorities want to hide."
The free press in Castro's Cuba simply cannot exist because the system is based on a lie and its leaders and institutions are corrupt. Privileges and corruption are the backbone that keeps communist totalitarian regimes in power. Castro understood from the beginning: To control the people he has to control the press.
But at the end of the 1980s some of the "official reporters," disgusted by so many lies, became dissidents and the first independent journalists since 1959 appeared in Cuba. Next week we'll see what they think about their colleagues abroad and the price they pay for their independence.
Agustín Blazquez with the collaboration of Jaums Sutton
Producer/Director of documentary COVERING CUBA